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How to Communicate High Expectations for Elementary Students

by Samantha Hanly, studioD

Teachers and students may begin the year with excitement and high expectations for a great academic year, but somewhere along the line some kids fall behind and others seem to never achieve. The teacher must have good communication skills if she is going to help the students have a successful start of the year and stay on the right track. Procedures for communicating high expectations for elementary school students help more kids achieve their goals.

Clear Communication

Be specific about what is expected from students. For example, if children are expected to know how to look up a word in the dictionary, tell them what looking up a word entails. They must know how to spell to look up words that are listed in alphabetical order. They must understand where the definition is giving them part of speech, etiology, and usually more than just one definition. All expectations should be listed and clarified. It is often helpful to write out the expectations on a wall poster so that both students and the teacher may refer back to it. Ted Panitz, a math teacher who contributed to the University of Oregon's Teaching Effectiveness Program, writes that after getting to know his students a little, he asks them to sign a Success Contract with him that outlines his expectations. This may be done individually, but may also be done as a class. For example, the entire class may consider a wall poster of teacher expectations as a contract.

Children and Families

Education Partnerships, Inc. publishes a pamphlet on The Importance of High Expectations in which the authors include the necessity of communicating teacher expectations not just to the students, but also to the parents. When parents know that classroom and homework expectations are high, they are more likely to offer support and encouragement to their children. Teachers may print out copies of the specific expectations to give or mail to parents. Teachers must also be available to answer parent questions and be willing to explain the rationale behind specific expectations.

Respect and Support

The experts at Washington University's Inclusive Teaching think tank remind teachers to acknowledge that work may be difficult, but not to be apologetic. Rather, they suggest teachers carefully monitor their own language for subtle messages, such as "This part is simple," or "It is easy to see..." This makes kids who don't think it is simple or easy feel as if they cannot meet the expectations. Instead, teachers communicate their belief that students are capable of meeting high expectations by presenting information without qualifiers and answering questions in a respectful tone.

Offering Praise

Offering praise when high expectations have been met may work as positive reinforcement. A student who has worked hard to meet high expectations may appreciate the praise and even benefit from the praise. The praise feels good and helps to motivate the student to continue to succeed. At the Brown University Education Alliance's page on Teaching Diverse Learners, Kathleen Serverian-Wilmeth is quoted as saying, "When a teacher expresses sympathy over failure, lavishes praise for completing a simple task, or offers unsolicited help, the teacher may send unintended messages of low expectations." Therefore, teachers must remember to use praise sparingly, and only in response to a big accomplishment.

About the Author

Samantha Hanly is an organic vegetable gardener, greenhouse gardener and home canner. She grows a substantial portion of her family's food every year. After receiving her bachelor's degree, Hanly embarked on a career teaching dramatic arts, arts and crafts, and languages. She became a professional writer in 2000, writing curricula for use in classrooms and libraries.

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